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Indie Game Developers Discuss Their Failures

Indie Game Developers Discuss Their Failures (photo)

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Prototype. Don’t get comfortable. Keep your head up. That was the message at yesterday afternoon’s “Failure Workshop” at the Game Developers Conference. 6 different independent developers, responsible for titles like “World of Goo,” “Off-Road Velociraptor Safari,” and Plants vs. Zombies,” shared their development horror stories to help an audience of hundreds. Here’s what we learned from their months and sometimes years of pain.

“No amount of ‘theming’ will save a bad idea.”

Kyle Gabler, half of indie dev 2D Boy, spoke about the follow-up to PC/Wii/iPad success “World of Goo.” The title, “Robot and the Cities That Built Him,” sounded fun: a giant robot destroys a city over and over again. But the game, as Gabler describes it, was boring. Very boring. It took two months of polish before the two-person team bothered to prototype the game. With tangible proof that the core idea, while entertaining thematically, was no good, the team scrapped the project.

“The Parking Lot Theory”

Matthew Wegner and his studio Flashbang made a name for themselves with and the site’s hit game: “Off-Road Velociraptor Safari.” It was one of many games made for Blurst under 8 week deadlines. The goal was to attract people to a developer website with lots of quickly made games – and ideally make money off traffic. Traffic only spiked around each new game’s release then tabled; the financial strategy was a whiff.

To make money, Wegner and Co. chose to adapt “Velociraptor Safari,” the highest trafficked game, for an HD/XBLA/PSN style port. The process proved to be dull and time consuming. So they tried a new art style. That too failed.

In hindsight, Wegner admits the company slouched into the comfort zone. “It’s the Parking Lot Theory,” he said. When a man loses his keys in the parking lot, he looks below the street lights not because that’s where his keys might be, but because it’s the easiest place to look. Updating a proven game was easy. What they needed to do was make the project more fun. They needed to put more game in the game.

“Start prototyping”

George Fan, the man responsible for PopCap’s most recent game, Plants vs. Zombies, told the tale of Cat-Mouse Foosball, his 2001 failure that nearly scared him out of the industry. At that time, Fan was more artist than designer. He drew level layouts and character designs, creating the game in his head long before touching a computer.

What Fan learned: you can’t draw games, because you can’t keep the image in your head. A video game has too many variables – one action could cause any number of reactions. The design process isn’t static like drawing a picture. To see a video game, Fan echoed Gabler: prototype. Creating a rough version of the game often reveals if the project’s fun. Or at least if it works.

Fan loaded up a recreated demo for Cat-Mouse Foosball. Cats and mice scurried through the screen colliding into red barriers. It was a mess and Fam let out a good-hearted laugh. Without failures like this, he might have never made it so far.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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